Monday, July 27, 2015

When I Saw Him Standing There

Well, he walked up to me
And he asked me if I wanted to dance
He looked kinda nice
And so I said, "I might take a chance" - 'Then He Kissed Me', The Crystals 1963

I only know when he
Began to dance with me
I could have danced, danced, danced,
All night! - 'My Fair Lady', 1956

Dummy in NYC Haberdashery
A hundred years ago a dancer from the Bolshoi Ballet asked me to dance. This is a true story.

I can't remember how I managed to walk to the dance floor, or what sort of dancing it was. I don't remember the music either. I do know it was in Melbourne during the Cold War and that I had been dragged along to a social function put on by the Australian Russian Friendship Society.

He told me his name was Sasha. We didn't speak much. We gazed into each others' eyes. He had a lovely smile, a half smile. I remember thinking of the mambo scene in "West Side Story".

Perhaps we didn't even dance. Perhaps we just stood still, looking at each other. I can't remember. I do remember that  we tried to work out a rendezvous, but what with my shyness, his limited English, and the restrictions imposed upon him by his KCB minders, we didn't get anywhere

I was star-struck for at least two nights and then, being young and carefree, all  thoughts of Sasha faded. My memory of him now is of a young Count Vronsky look-alike -  dressed in black and white,  handsome against a monochrome Soviet background - a memory influenced no doubt by the many experiences I have both enjoyed and suffered in the intervening years between then and now.

I thought of Sasha last week when I looking into the ice-cream freezer display at the Keyfood supermarket on Second Avenue in New York.

An elderly gentleman - a fellow shopper - was trying to get my attention. Why did I think so suddenly of Sasha? I hadn't thought about him for years.

Perhaps there was something about the black-and-whiteness of the fellow, the hesitation, the half-smile.

I turned away from the shelves of  tubs of Edy's ice-cream to ask him what he wanted. "Can I borrow your coupons?" he said, pointing to the leaflet of coupons at the bottom of my shopping basket.

Around us streamed the afternoon throng of elderly New Yorkers. The 3:00 pm crowd. Getting in before the rush and crush of the millenials. War-weary ex-peaceniks, the beaten-up beats of generation 1950. Aisle after supermarket aisle of elderly men and women.
New Theatre Review Melbourne 1942

Did Mr. Coupon think I was one of them? I tried to look young. Well younger. "I'm not there yet",  I was thinking. Soon yes. But not yet. I am only old, not elderly. There's a difference!

You can HAVE the coupons, I told him. I didn't explain, but printed coupons aren't necessary. The cashiers ring up the sale price in any case -  the coupons being more an advertising gimmick, placed indiscriminately by supermarket staff into the  shopping baskets, aiming to fool people into buying things they don't need; tricking them into thinking that they are getting a bargain.

I went back to surveying the freezer shelves, trying to choose between the slow-churned vanilla and the cookie dough flavor. Maybe two tubs of one, or one of each ...

He was still standing there. Like the girl in the Beatles song. "Oh why did I think of another?"

I'll tell you why. It was 1964 and I was dancing with Sasha in gloomy old Melbourne-town during the Cold War. I was the rescuer of a  possible defector to the Free World. We were going to try to meet somewhere on St Kilda Road. But then the music died. The night the music died...

The supermarket was playing our song. I jolted back to reality. The coupon man was still there. Standing. Just.

"You should buy one of these Edy ice-creams," I told him. "They are two for the price of one."

He said he didn't trust the supermarket. If he didn't have a coupon, then how did he know it was true?

By now the tubs of ice-cream were starting to melt. "Like my heart when Sasha asked me to dance," I mused.

Sasha. I had tried to look him up. Tried to get a playbook of the ballet. But of course his real name was not Sasha, Sasha being a diminutive of Alexander.

Reality girl! Elderly man. Coupons 2015. New York. Not Melbourne. Summer, not Soviet.

I closed the door to the freezer. "Look," I said. "There is the notice on the door. Two Edy's icecreams for the price of one." He peered through myopic eyes. And smiled. A sort of half smile. Hesitant. A wary-of-the-KGB sort of smile. I half-smiled in return.

And hurried away, not looking back. So as not to to see if my Sasha was using a walker.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

What was Violet's Middle Name?

As soon as you're born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be -  Working Class Hero, John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, 1970

Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today - "Yes! We Have No Bananas", Frank Silver and Irving Cohn, 1922

Best friends, Australia, When we were young
I am opening up a new online bank account. I'm trying to set up my security questions and answers. I've been here before. I dread going there.

I live in a country where it is very important to be politically correct. Socially, racially correct. But apparently this meme or whatever, does not apply to "security questions".

And yes, I realise that such questions are only there in case you forget who you are, or what is your password - but it is not as simple as that.

The assumption is that you had a conventional childhood. White. Affluent. Two parents and 2.2 children, of which you are one of them. One of the whole number, born ones.

It is all worked out here in the U.S.A.  If you are not statistically normal, help is on the way. You can even get extra points in order to get into college (aka university in OZ).

But when it comes to opening a bank account, a 401K, a Roth IRA - even a social media account - the un-politically, un-socio-economical questions come pouring in.

There's normally a list of set questions you can provide answers to - in case you forget who you are. I speed-read it. But unless there's something simple, like "Your father's middle name", I am at a loss.

 I was raised by a single mother. I lived in a country that didn't use the term "middle school". I know I had a paternal grand father, but I only saw him once and I was six at the time.

He never told me his middle name.

I had a dog but I can't remember his name. Probably he was"Blacky",  but maybe the five year-old me spelled it with an "ie".

We moved house 27 times before I was 14. So I have no effing idea the name of my home teacher when I was in "middle school".

My dad had three wives and I don't know the middle name of any of them. Including my mother's.' Well, I do with my mum, but the "authorities" kept getting it wrong, and I keep forgetting the "wrong one" that  I am meant to remember.

When my mother, a country girl eleven years old, came to Melbourne from the tiny New South Wales town of Moama in 1930, the teacher at Princes Hill Primary school got her name wrong, and the young country girl  was too overwhelmed to correct her when she read her given names out of order.

My mother's name was "Christine Hazel", but she was registered as "Hazel Christina" at Princes Hill. So what IS my mother's middle name? I dare not get it wrong or my bank account will be locked. My mum  - Born Christine, married as Hazel, Divorced as Christina. Died Christine. I skip that question.

My best childhood best friend?  I think of Di - in the UK now. We were  best friends  -  still are  - for yonks. Will be forever. We lived near each other in the early sixties. In Melbourne. But maybe it should be Kathy Brettel. I was best friends with her in third grade in Bathurst New South Wales in 1959.  Never heard from her again. But she was "first". Or Carolyn who lived round the corner when we were both fourteen and I still stay with in Australia when I visit. We are as sisters.

And what do they mean by "childhood"? Too confusing.

The Missing
I skip that question. Here's one - "Who was your favorite comic book hero?" There's the rub. My dad didn't allow comic books in the house. He was left-wing till Stalin invaded Czechoslovakia. I really don't want to bring the Cold War and McCarthy into a supposedly simple account security system check.

What was my nick name as a child?  Closer. "Katie" or maybe "Katy". I should make a note of the spelling in my password-keeper.

Oh, and I LOVE this one - "What street did you live in when you were nine?" I think back to the fifties. The various rooms and half houses that my single mother, Hazel, Chris, Christina ... whatever,  found for us. Beats me. I am not even sure of the state.

I go on. "Your favorite  uncle?" Well we all us women know about favorite uncles. I am not even going there! It is all getting too close to home.

Till next time,

Kath, Katy, Katie, Kathleen... Chris's daughter, Hazel's daughter, Violet whoever's granddaughter,


Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Eating Pies on Trams Syndrome

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand - Bob Dylan "Every Grain of Sand", 1981
His veteribus sub tectis
Carmen vocibus sucentis
Celebrate virginum
Mistos lusibus labores
Operosa fructuosa vita debet exige
Palladis, potens sui. - Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School Song

Walking home - 94th Street, Manhattan 2015
A hundred years ago I went to an exclusive all girls' high school in Melbourne.

Mac.Robertson Girls' High. We sang our school song in Latin. We had to wear hats and gloves when in uniform outside the school's grounds. We weren't allowed to eat on trams. Our French teacher was called simply, "Madame".

One day an ex "MacRob girl" who must have been very ex to our young eyes - she looked to be at least forty - complained to the headmistress about the behavior of one particular girl on a tram .

Looking back, the headmistress Miss Barrett was a very ordinary women. But at that time us girls fantasized that she had once had a lover; a dashing young man who had died in the trenches at the Somme. That's the kind of gals we were. Very "Picnic at Hanging Rock" kind of girls.

But back to the ex MacRob girl who complained. Apparently she had seen a girl in a MacRob uniform not only not wearing gloves, but eating a meat pie on the number 69 tram the day before. The PA system directed all girls who had been on a number 69 tram to go to the general assembly hall for a line-up.

The Conch, 1963
And yes, I had been on the number 69 tram. Of course I hadn't been eating a pie. And I always wore my gloves. I was what they called a "conch", which was I believe, short for conscientious.

Nevertheless I was sure that the ex-MacRob snitch would choose me from the line-up. I even felt guilty. I  internalized the guilt of the unknown naughty girl. A bit like Jesus was meant to do when he died for our sins I suppose. But then I have never had enough cognitive dissonance to understand that concept.

I remember thinking that all us number 69 tram girls looked the same, and that how could she tell who had eaten the pie. The rest of that day is now a blur. Receding long ago intro that dark and distant past - the  olden days.

And then it all happened again. Déjà vu like no other déjà vu. The déjà vu of déjà vus!

Commuters on the M102
June 2015. I was on the M102 bus on Third . On my way home from work. An announcement over the bus PA - "Calling all bus drivers. An elderly woman has strayed from her nursing home. She has graying hair and is wearing black. She has dementia. If you see this woman please call 511."

I looked around nervously. Furtively. Dreading the pointing finger. It was the pie lady all over again.

And yet - how did I know it really wasn't me? Perhaps I was only thinking I had been to work that day. Perhaps I was really that lost woman with dementia and had imagined I had a job and belonged in the real world.

"I'm getting OFF this bus lickety spit!" I told myself.

No pies for me! And certainly not on a bus.

But really, it isn't funny. I am old.

I am so old it takes forever when I am filling in an online form. When I am prompted for the year of my birth I have to scroll downward through the years, down down down; it takes years to get there.

I am so old, that words from my childhood that have not seen currency for decades have been recycled by millenials.  Such as "dig it" - an expression I understand was popular in the beatnik era when I was still in school. Not that Latin-singing MacRob girls used such words.

"I don't dig it," I heard one millennial say to another millennial just last week. I remember it distinctly because it sounded so strange. Millenials rarely speak in public. Unless it is into their cell phones. This was face-to-face. Real-time. Possibly there was even eye contact.

Yes I am definitely old.

I am so old that I only just found our that there is a popular band called Mumford and Sons.

But that's a good thing.

Isn't it?

Friday, May 08, 2015

Painted Ponies

And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look
Behind from where we came - Joni Mitchell, The Circle Game, 1968

I've been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
'Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain - America, Horse with no Name, 1971

Carousel, Brooklyn
"As the associate said to the guest" ....

If  I could think of a good punch line I would have written it. But I can't.

"Associate"?  "Guest"? Context? I am always amazed the way words are recycled to describe old things - things that could be construed by the paranoid, as being politically incorrect.

So now, people that sell you stuff in stores are not sales assistants, or even "in retail" (as they say in Australia), but are "associates". And people who come into a store to buy stuff, are not "shoppers", but "guests".

Which makes one wonder, what name do we give to people who we invite into our homes. No longer "guests" but ....

Surely we can't give away names willy-nilly.

When I had not been long in America, and had not understood about THE revolution, and how the English were baddies... fresh from the colonies I walked into an Eileen Fisher shop on Madison. Shoppers and the people behind the counters were all on cell phones.

I had about six pieces of clothing draped over my arm. I approached the counter with the cash register on it. And in all naivety, I asked the shop assistants (Australian for affiliates), was there anyone there who could serve me.

"Oh SERVE you, oh so sorry m'lady, would you like a cocktail?" sarcasted the only affiliate who wasn't on her cell phone.
I was speechless. "Would you like a martini? On the rocks? Or perhaps madame would like the cocktail of the house?" she went on. and on. And on.

"I only wanted to buy clothes," I whispered, before I hurried out.

What's in a name? Excuse me, but a lot apparently. Now I am very careful what words to use in America. They haven't forgotten the British. The Redcoats. The lords and ladies of the manor born.

Of course, buying clothes anywhere isn't easy. Last year I was in Melbourne Australia. I wanted to buy something Australian. I went to the usual places, places of my youth. Myer, David Jones, and a few Lygon street boutiques.

And found something that I have barely seen in Manhattan clothing stores. Old people serving ... oops I mean elderly associates ... oops I mean senior associates.

They annoyed hell out of me. I would be wandering around the store looking through racks of clothes and they would actually approach me.

"Can I help you?" "Exactly what is it that you are looking for?" And so on. I would leave in a hurry. My New York private space invaded. " What's with those people?" I asked my friend C after about two weeks of such assaults. "Oh", she replied, "Were they OLD people?" I thought and answered yes.

"Well don't EVER go into a shop where the shop assistants (C is not PC) are old", she told me. "Go to places where they are young and they will be busy on their mobile phones. Then they don't bother you. You can look at clothes for hours and they don't come NEAR you."

Of course she was right. C is always right. I have even put her advice to the test in Manhattan. Especially in Bloomingdales.

Works like a charm.